A New Citizenship: Conversion in Roman Philippi as Reflected in the Letter to the Philippians

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In New Testament studies, conversion is understood to involve theological, ethical, and social transformation. Zeba Crook insists that New Testament conversion must be understood in its first-century CE cultural context, arguing that identity in the Greco-Roman world was formed and maintained by belonging to a social group. This thesis builds on Crook’s work and focuses on Philippi and the Letter to the Philippians, rather than on the broader Mediterranean region in the first century CE. It undertakes a close reading of the Letter to the Philippians and an evaluation of the material evidence of Roman Philippi to argue that, for Paul, conversion is construed as a new citizenship and that such a construal is unique to the Letter to the Philippians.
Research by Peter Pilhofer reveals evidence from inscriptions that demonstrates that Philippi’s socio-political context was thoroughly Romanised and lacked an established Jewish synagogue in Paul’s time. The gentile converts, therefore, could not relate to Paul’s God in the framework of covenant or inclusion in ethnic Israel. Because Paul believed that participation in his God’s mission was integral to the Philippians’ identity and evidence of their conversion, he hoped to persuade them by using the conceptual framework of ‘citizenship of heaven’, so that the Philippians could have a common in-group identity.
This understanding of conversion is elucidated through the application of Social Identity Theory (SIT), in adapted form. SIT identifies three main themes central to Paul’s understanding of conversion in the cultural context of Philippi:

1) A new identity based around participation in the κοινωνία – participation in the common goal of the propagation of the gospel. Paul considered that those who shared in his mission must share the same world view and mindset as him.
2) A new loyalty to a new κύριος. The Philippians would have taken loyalty oaths to Caesar, who was their κύριος. Paul, however, expected the Philippians to act in concord and to demonstrate their loyalty to their new patron, Paul’s Messiah.
3) A new citizenship that has a different κύριος and σωτήρ. The socio-political institution of citizenship provides a psychological bond that enables a new social identity to be formed by the Philippians in order to create a new civic community.

Thus conversion required a change in world view, ethical behaviour, and social identity, yet the converts remained in the same socio-political context.
To date, there has not been a major social-scientific study of conversion in the Letter to the Philippians. This thesis addresses this lacuna and, in so doing, brings further understanding to the notion of conversion not only in Philippians, but also in the broader Pauline corpus. Hence this thesis has implications for Pauline studies and more broadly for missional hermeneutics.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Anstey, Matthew, Principal Supervisor
  • Harris, Timothy, Co-Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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